13th July 1997 – the ultimate demolition in front of 130,000 people !

13th July 1997 – that’s the day remembered fondly by many and hated by equally many. In our generation, that symbolised the passion of football in Kolkata, the eternal rivalry now going 100+ years strong … and of course, the ultimate supremacy of East Bengal over Mohan Bagan, which I hope will continue till my last day.

The frenzy surrounded the match was something that I had listened from my uncles but never witnessed at a mature age. Two things aggravated the situation – the insulting comments of the Late Amal Dutta, the coach of the macha’s and the fact that there was an issue on whether the match will be telecast live on TV – after all, it was the Federation Cup semifinals and a mouth-watering one too.

That season, Mohan Bagan started with a bang – displaying a brand of attacking football that was not seen in last few years, by adopting the so-called diamond system. Such was their initial success that their coach was called Diamond Dutta – till 13th July, when the diamond was crushed to dust. On the other hand, East Bengal was clearly the underdog before the match with some good players on paper – but after that match, the rise of Baichung Bhutia, the empeccable defense of Sammy Omollo, the tactics of counter attacking play against a stronger opponents – all became part of history.

Now, there have been many posts on how the match went, how East Bengal’s Baichung destroyed the myth of the diamond system, etc etc. I don’t want to elaborate on the same thing – but what I want to write is why that day was the most memorable day related to sports till date in my life !

First thing that strikes me was the total frenzy before the game. Tickets to the game was simply not available as they were sold out days before the game. In my locality, fights did happen even before one/two days before the match just because supporters of one club made some bad comments of their opponents. Me and my friends were desperate  for tickets and finally we managed to get through different people. Once we got the tickets, the tension amongst East Bengal fans were just immense – we were subject to taunts, banters and hence we were simply raring to go after them with the hope that a cornered East Bengal club is the most ferocious thing to happen to anyone.

Cometh the Match Day – all lucky shirts (slightly torn), lucky shoes and chappals (worn out with visible holes) were out. And I was stunned when we reached Salt Lake stadium. It was a sea of people with chanting, shouting – the noise outside was tremendous. Rs 10 tickets were being sold in front of me at a price of Rs 800 – 1000 and all those ones were being sold like hot cakes. Never before I saw police jeeps patrolling with portable microphones blaring announcements of “this match will be now telecast live, so for those who don’t have tickets, we beg you all to return back to your homes” !! The entry to Gate-4 was impossible – the queue was at least 2 km long. We had to finally break the queue risking police sticks on our backs and managed to enter the stadium.

Inside it was a hot, noisy cauldron. Stadium packed up even before 1 hour to the start of the match. Even though the official number was 131,000 people in the stadium, unofficially it must have crossed 150,000 as I still remember people standing in the stairs throughout the match – they did not get any space to sit. And the noise when the teams entering the ground – simply unbelievable.

The other thing that I learnt on was the impact of sound waves. Those who are familiar with the Salt Lake stadium layout – we sat in Gate 4, which was just behind one goal. That day, Mohan Bagan managed to score one goal – so while the East Bengal gallery was totally silent, the MB supporters were shouting “GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL”. And we, sitting at the opposite end of them, literally felt the sound wave coming – starting from a feeble rustling sound, then growing exponentially to an ultimate crescendo – all for a period of maybe 8-10 seconds. Unbelievable impact to the ears. And boy, did we not return that impact to MB supporters ? Yes, we did … not just once, by 4 times !!!!!!!!

The most dangerous thing that can happen to any human was if someone, by mistake, sits in their opponents gallery ! As many outstation policemen was deployed inside the stadium, there was one constable from Patna (we came to know later) who was sitting near us. In the first half, when it was 0-0, Cheema Okerie of Mohan Bagan piled on a strong shot which luckily when outside. And this guy, forgetting where he was sitting, jumped up and started shouting and dancing…. by mistake. Oh my God ! Everyone pounced on him and started to give slaps (we call them “chataas”) – but then when it was learnt he was new to the city, etc better sense prevailed. But the story does not end here – when Baichung went on the rampage in the 2nd half, after each goal, everyone forced the poor constable to dance continuously for 5 minutes (per goal) !! It was a hilarious scene for all of us – but must have been a poor ordeal to that guy.

In any East Bengal – Mohan Bagan match, one thing you have to cope up is huge amount of gaali’s and that too innovative ones. There was a father who brought his 9-10 year old son – and he literally tried to close his son’s ears by his both hands everytime someone was shouting some expletives ! Finally he had to give up lamenting “why on hell did I bring my son to this game !!!”. But the funny part was when East Bengal was leading 2-1 in the 2nd half – at that point of time, there was at least 20-25 minutes left. One elderly gentleman suddenly got up, starting shouting expletives towards the referee, when there was absolutely no issue in a mid-field play. People got surprised and someone asked what happened ? (“ki holo, dada” ?). And his reply was unique – “Shourer xxxx referee, referee’r xxxxx, xxxx … etokhon khelaono’r ki aache ???? Amra jitchi 2-1’e – aar referee ekhono kheliye jaache ?????? Shalaaa xxxxx, xxxxxx – ekhunu khela sesh koruk !!” ….. I will not ever forget this incident.

Another thing that will ever be in my mind – it started with a disappointment. We were planning to sit in Gate 3 (where we normally target a fixed place) so that we can see the match better sitting middle of the ground. But we were forced to sit in Gate 4, behind one goal. So, when action happens in the other end of the goal, sometimes you cannot interpret things better. So all of us were grumbling before the start of the match and we were shouting at the policemen who refused to let us go to Gate 3. Boy, did we get compensated at the end of the match ??? Oh yeeeesssssssssssssssssssssssssssss !!! All 3 goals of East Bengal’s in the 2nd half happened at our end, including Baichung’s hat-trick !!! What more could we have asked !!!! And literally I had such a sore throat that day because of the shouting, that I had to bunk office the next day !!!

Let me make three take-way points before I end this post:

  • Nothing is more enjoyable than an East Bengal – Mohan Bagan derby; specially when East Bengal wins. Even when India won the cricket world cups, I was not as happy as I was that day !
  • Atmosphere on the ground in a football match is just electric – even the most advanced dolby sound effects cannot replace that experience
  • Now to the Mohan Bagan fans – you guys simply have to admit we are much superior than you when it comes to the Derby match. I know you will start shouting right now – but again all street dogs bark more than they bite :-)

Finally, as I reminiscence the happiest sporting day in my life, I attach the remnants of that day’s match ticket – which I still carry in my purse wherever I go. Why I do that ? Because it symbolises heavenly happiness, it symbolises good omen and at the end of the day, it symbolises that East Bengal was, is and will be always superior than Mohan Bagan till my last day !

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